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U.S. poet laureate makes stop in Lake City

February 24, 2018 GMT

LAKE CITY, S.C. — U.S. poet laureate Tracy K. Smith was in Lake City Friday afternoon as part of a National Project Rural Tour. U.S. Congressman James E. Clyburn hosted the event at Lake City United Methodist Church.

During the two hours Smith spent at the church, she shared a few of her poems and answered questions from the audience which included students from schools across the Pee Dee. Smith read excerpts from her new book “Wade in the Water” that will be released in a few weeks.

Some of the shared poems touched on the Civil War and the Gullah-Geechie culture.

“One of the themes that also runs through these new poems is compassion,” Smith said. “How do we learn this thing that I think we are here to learn? What might it feel like to trust each other enough to welcome each other?”

Smith said her poems always begin with what she is curious about, uncertain of and bothered by. She said she thinks toward ideas that might help shed light on whatever that problem or question is.

Among the people who attended Friday’s event was Columbia poet Manifa Lemons. She said it was imperative that she attended the event with her three daughters. She said the girls needed to see someone who looks just like them that holds one of the highest offices in literary or the arts in the country.

“There was a time when we were growing up and we would’ve never seen anyone like Tracy K. Smith. We would hear about people like her. We would read about them in our textbooks and history books, but we would’ve never been able to see them face to face,” Lemons said. “This is the most beautiful time ever in this country that we are able to look at our heroes, touch them, shake their hand and hug them and tell them thank you while they’re living. I’ve never known that to be true in any other part of history.”

Lemons said overwhelming gratitude is what poets have for someone like Smith to come to South Carolina and show children what excellence is.

Clyburn said he talked with Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden about his passion for making sure that rural communities get brought mainstream into the country’s activities.

“For some strange reason, we tend to gravitate to big cities,” Clyburn said. “We tend to feel that in order for one to be anybody, you’ve got to head for the big city.”

He said he does not agree with that, and he is sure that is why Hayden invited him to participate in the National Project Rural Tour. Lake City was one of three locations Clyburn selected for Smith to make appearances in this month. Summerton and Adams Run were also included.

Smith said she feels it is important to visit smaller areas, such as Lake City, and share her work.

“I feel like otherwise, the literary events and the conversations and realizations that come from them sit around the corridor of cities or university towns and I don’t think that that’s enough,” Smith said. “So I feel like I’m here to learn and listen.”